Tinplate surface morphology and chemistry is adjusted during the manufacturing process in order to meet the demands of its subsequent product use, the commonest being visual appearance and food packaging stability. A comprehensive experimental study on an industrial tinning line varied the surface roughness and the tin coating weight with the characterization through X‐ray diffraction (XRD), X‐ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), white light interferometer (WLI), optical imaging, and lacquer adhesion measurement. Increasing tin weight lowers the adhesion through the production of a thicker disorganized tin oxide layer which has a greater tendency to fracture under shearing forces. There is no evidence that the substrate roughness improves the adhesion of the lacquer. Analysis of the failure location identifies fracture in the tin oxide layer below the passivation layer. The findings have impacts on the next generation of passivation materials for tinplate as it has been clearly demonstrated that growth in tin oxide thickness, particularly when unstructured, has a detrimental impact on lacquer adhesion.